A Coach’s Dream Becomes Reality Through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes
What Started as a Dream of an Oklahoma Basketball Coach Has Turned Into a Global Vision to See the World Transformed by Jesus Christ Through the Influence of Coaches and Athletes
KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ (FCA, www.fca.org) believes that, through the international platform of sport, coaches and athletes have the power to unite, inspire and change the world.
And few may know that it all started with some old magazine clippings that were stuffed into a dresser drawer.
FCA President and CEO Shane Williamson has written about the history of the 64-year-old international sports ministry—while reflecting on both the past and the future—in a new commentary published in The Christian Post.
Clipping and saving newspaper stories about well-known athletes was a common practice of a young Oklahoma basketball coach named Don McClanen—the eventual founder of FCA.
“Don McClanen dreamed that if athletes could endorse products, surely they could endorse the Lord,” Williamson said. “He wrote letters to the men featured in the clippings to see if they were interested in helping form a ministry to reach coaches and athletes. Of the 19 he reached out to, 14 replied ‘yes!’ One of the men who did not respond was Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Branch Rickey, who had gained fame for inventing baseball’s affiliated minor league system while running the St. Louis Cardinals organization and knocking down the game’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.”
McClanen tried persistently and enthusiastically to meet with Rickey because he sensed his importance for the future impact of FCA. Finally, Rickey’s secretary told McClanen if he wanted to drive to Pittsburgh for the possibility of a five-minute meeting with Rickey, she wouldn’t stop him. In August 1954, McClanen got his meeting with Branch Rickey. But instead of five minutes, it lasted five hours. After talking with the passionate coach, Rickey got on board.
“This thing has the potential of changing the youth scene of America within a decade,” Rickey had said. “It is pregnant with potential. It is just ingenious. It’s a new thing; where has it been?!”
Rickey connected McClanen to another Pittsburgh businessman, Paul Benedum. Within a year, Benedum put the organization on stable ground with a $10,000 donation. After seven long years of prayer and perseverance, and three months after McClanen’s meeting with Rickey, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was chartered in Oklahoma on Nov. 10, 1954, and McClanen’s dream turned into a movement that has surpassed 60 years.
“In 1954, the ‘hero status’ of athletes gave McClanen the original idea of using their fame as a conduit to share Christ,” Williamson wrote. “And that strategy continues to work, as each season, in every sport, we see athletes attend FCA Huddles and Camps, pray as a team and honor God with their wins—and even their losses. Yet as the ministry has grown, we’ve also recognized an important piece of the puzzle: the coach. It’s the coaches, like McClanen himself, who influence the athletes and who we’re strategically reaching as we look to the future of FCA.”
Williamson added that FCA leadership, staff and volunteers keep this 2004 quote from McClanen in the backs of their minds: “The question is often asked, is FCA as needed or as relevant today as it was back then, and I would say more so. FCA is God’s amazing, miraculous dream being fulfilled still to this day.”
He was so right. With Don McClanen’s God-inspired dream, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has never stopped moving nor growing.
“Today, our vision remains steadfast: to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes,” Williamson said. “We believe there is a very real possibility that we can reach every coach and every athlete in every corner of the earth. Sport is an international language, which is why the Oklahoma-based dream of 1954 has crossed borders and language barriers to take FCA into the nations. It started with one, who then recruited a few. And as a result of their faithfulness, the ministry of FCA has touched millions of coaches’ and athletes’ lives. There’s no signs of stopping until the message of Christ reaches the ends of the earth.”
More than 60 years after Don McClenan’s dream, FCA has experienced tremendous growth. From the first Camps at Estes Park, Colorado, and Black Mountain, North Carolina, to the formation of the first Huddles of athletes meeting on school campuses, God is changing lives through FCA.
“While those are still the same types of ‘wins’ we celebrate, we’ve multiplied and grown to have global impact, as evidenced by the fact that FCA currently has 1,750-plus staff members, hosts more than 770 Camps and operates in 84 countries,” Williamson said. “FCA remains dedicated to leading every coach and athlete into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His church. By engaging coaches and athletes relationally with the gospel, equipping them through God’s Word and empowering them to make disciples of Christ, we can see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through their influence.”
View the media page for FCA here. For more information about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, visit FCA’s web site at www.fca.org, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fcafans or its Twitter feed @fcanews.